The public employee unions are back in the news and the portraits painted are anything but flattering. In fact, the newspaper accounts reinforce every negative stereotype of union thugs and greedy union bosses that have been written by generations of union critics.
The first story involves Oregon’s largest public employee union, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). But SEIU isn’t just a public employees union. It routinely tries to organize custodial workers, hospital workers and nursing home workers. And it is one of the most politically active unions in Oregon, donating huge sums of money to Democrat candidates, providing armies of “volunteers” for Democrat campaigns and flooding the halls of the state capital with lobbyists.
The victims of these unions routinely complain of intimidation. You might remember the large men and women who shadowed initiative signature gatherers yelling at, and taking pictures of, those who would stop to sign the petitions under the guise of the Voters Information Project. These efforts ultimately proved to be unsuccessful and the VIP virtually disappeared during the last election cycle.
The SEIU’s favorite organizing tactic is the use of the so-called “card check” system. The nation’s unions have been steadily losing membership in the private sector. Employees routinely reject organizing activities in secret ballot votes that are authorized under the National Labor Relations Act. The “card check” system is a method of avoiding the secret election and allows the unions to intimidate and trick workers into signing “card checks” and thus force management to recognize the union. When you encounter one of these behemoths alone, unprotected by a crowd, unaided by a secret ballot, it is not surprising that you succumb and sign their cards. The problem with such tactics is that once the employees are free from the intimidation of the unions and are able to freely express themselves, they routinely reject representation by the unions.
This happens so frequently with SEIU that it was recently forced to sign an agreement withdrawing its claim to representation with Portland based Siltronics and to agree to refrain from using the “card check” method for organizing in Washington and Oregon for a period of six months. In this instance, it was either stipulate to the agreement or run the risk of having all of its tactics aired in a public hearing before the National Labor Relations Board.
The irony of all of this is that now that the Democrats have regained control of the Congress, they have introduced legislation to eliminate the secret elections and impose the use of the abusive “card check” system as the only means of organizing. Now you understand the payoff for the unions’ singular devotion to the Democrats.
But that isn’t the only payoff for the public employee unions. Oregon’s Supreme Court recently invalidated a decision by the Portland Public Schools to “out source” its janitorial services at substantial savings. The court, relying on their interpretation of a law from the 1930’s, overturned that decision and forced the Portland Public Schools to provide those janitorial services through public employees only. This is the legal equivalent to a “sole source” contract. It means no matter how abusive the work rules imposed by the public employee unions, no matter how expensive the cost of its wages and exorbitant benefits, the Portland Public Schools are forced to pay without the ability to contract elsewhere. You might remember that the Portland Public Schools are the ones that were required to cut school days because they lacked sufficient funds, cut education programs because the lacked funds, fire teachers because they lacked funds. And here are the public employee unions doing their very best to spray gasoline and a raging fire. (By the way, you might remember that this is the same Oregon Supreme Court that tossed out the reforms of the state’s gold plated PERS system and announced that the state legislature was not allowed to reform the abusive provision of the PERS system.
Now here comes the final irony in all of this. The decision to out source the janitorial services came during Ron Saxton’s tenure as chairman of the Portland Public Schools Board. It was a wise and prudent decision that he promised to bring to state government if elected governor. In marked contrast, Gov. Kulongoski’s administration has been routinely signing “sole source” agreements with the SEIU and other public employee unions that prohibit cost saving through out-sourcing alternatives. Now you understand the further payoff for the public employee unions’ singular devotion to the Democrats.